Can Dems Learn From Their 2016 Mistakes If They Do Not Acknowledge Them?
Russia, Comey, Wikileaks – Nina Turner explains how democrats could have overcome these challenges, had they actually listened to their base
KIM BROWN: Welcome to the Real News Network in Baltimore. I am Kim Brown. Washington is reeling from the unexpected firing of former FBI director James Comey by the Trump administration while in the middle of investigating alleged collusion between the Trump folks and the Russian government during the 2016 presidential election. Trump tweeted on Wednesday, “Comey lost the confidence of almost everyone in Washington, Republican and Democrat alike. When things calm down, they will be thanking me.” He tweeted this little nugget on Thursday that, “Dems have been complaining for months and months about director Comey. Now that he has been fired, they pretend to be aggrieved. Phony hypocrites.”
Well, one person to whom Trump may have been referring is Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and Democratic nominee for president. She was addressing a women’s conference earlier this month and she named Comey as part of the reason why she lost in November.
HILLARY CLINTON: It wasn’t a perfect campaign. There is no such thing, but I was on the way to winning until the combination of Jim Comey’s letter on October 28th and Russian WikiLeaks raised doubts in the minds of people who were inclined to vote for me but got scared off.
KIM BROWN: Have the Democrats truly done an autopsy of the last election and do they find any fault within themselves for losing control of the White House and not having a majority in either chamber of Congress? Joining us today to discuss this is Nina Turner, former state senator from Ohio. She also served as a top surrogate on the Bernie Sanders for president campaign of 2016 and she’s also host of the forthcoming program right here on the Real News Network called The Nina Turner Show. She joins us today from Cleveland. Senator Turner, welcome back.
NINA TURNER: Thank you, Kim. It’s a pleasure to be with you.
KIM BROWN: Senator Turner, I know you had an opportunity to see those comments Hillary Clinton made. Obviously, this came out prior to former director Comey being fired by the Trump administration, but still, in that conversation she had with Christiane Amanpour, she did admit to taking some personal responsibility, although she was not specific. When it came to the external forces that caused her to lose the election in November, she was very specific, naming director Comey and his letter and Russian WikiLeak hacks. Is this a grand example of a lack of self-awareness, not only by the candidate, Clinton, but by the Democratic Party as a whole?
NINA TURNER: Absolutely. It was, “I am responsible, but,” and everything that followed the but, it was everybody else. It was director Comey. It was the Russians. It was WikiLeaks. It was aliens from Mars. You name it. Democrats, Kim, you really, to me, hit the nail on the head in that intro. Democrats really do need to have some type of autopsy. The Democratic Party has not done that and I think that they would be wise to do that.
Of course, everybody expects some type of October surprise, no doubt about it. That’s why it’s called that, but at the same time as the Clinton campaign continued to point all of their fingers at some other outside forces other than themselves, there are other fingers pointing back at them. That’s the thing that is lacking. It was lacking all throughout the campaign. It is where does the responsibility lie and is it always somebody else’s fault?
They’re a little tone deaf. The Democratic Party still remains so. What I will say about the Republicans, they did do an autopsy in 2012 when they lost to President Obama the second time. Thank God the president did win, but they did an autopsy. They didn’t follow anything on that autopsy, but at least they were smart enough to say, “Something is wrong, and we need to look at ourselves to figure out why we keep losing the presidency.” At the same time, they continued to win state houses and governors mansions, but they did put out there this autopsy. I would advise the Democratic Party to do the same.
KIM BROWN: I’m glad you raised that point, Senator, because that was a very comprehensive autopsy postmortem of the 2012 election that the GOP did. I read that report, and it was very candid. It was very explicit and as you mentioned, they didn’t really adhere to it but it didn’t seem to hurt them much because as you said, they haven’t lost seats either locally or on the national level either. When looking at the Democrats, you and I had this conversation in part last week. There was a article in the Washington Post that published the findings of a think tank, rather a focus group conducted by the super pack called Priorities USA which is a Democratic affiliated organization and they spoke with voters who had voted initially in 2012 and 08 for President Obama and then who subsequently switched over to Donald Trump and their findings were pretty stark.
They said that 50% of Obama/Trump voters said that their incomes were falling behind the cost of living and another 31% said that their incomes are merely keeping up with the cost of living. As we’ve heard this term, Senator, economic anxiety. We’ve heard that repeated often and it’s interesting to see that former Democratic voters who voted for Trump feel as if the Democrats are the ones not in touch with income inequality and feels as though the Democrats are the party that is not concerned with the issues of the middle class and the poor. What are your thoughts about that?
NINA TURNER: Yeah I think that specific point should trouble Democrats greatly, not just the DNC but every single Democratic party in the states that you have voters who did in fact vote for President Obama and then they voted for Mr. Trump in 2016 and what they are revealing is that they themselves, their families, their problems that they try to solve at their kitchen tables that they feel very much as though the Democratic party has not done anything. I.e Democrats who are elected to office have not done anything to help to ameliorate their pain and while it is true that the unemployment rate did go down under President Obama, while it is true that he inherited an economic mess with the great recession when he took office, it was not good enough for Democrats then in 2016 to say, “Oh, by the way the unemployment rate is 4% don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about it.”
Even though Democrats … Not just Democrats, just main street was saying all across the country that they are hurting and so that focus group reveals a blind spot if you will because it’s pretty hard to rill against the economy when you are running for the third term of President Obama’s presidency and that really was the foundation point of Secretary Clinton’s campaign, especially when it came to trying to get the African American community out which is this is the third term of President Obama. Well, Democrats in her campaign didn’t take a step back to ask the question did the second term help every day Americans and will the voters respond to the so called third term?
They did not talk about the economy, but President Trump did although he’s done the total opposite since he’s been in office, he did run as a populous in terms of the trade deals. He was very stern on no TPP, that NAFTA was bad, all of those things of voters in states like mine, Ohio, was constant and also in Michigan responded to that where Secretary Clinton hedged on that and the only candidate that was very strong in how we felt about free trade being fair trade was Senator Sanders.
KIM BROWN: Senator, I wanted to bring up another point about that. We have the economic anxiety portion of the reasons given why Democrats lost in November, but let’s talk about the cultural anxiety. I think this is a phrase I saw used by MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and I think it appeared in another article where people of color, voters of color think that this was the real reason that the Democrats lost because of the xenophobic, homophobic, Islamophobic, just very vitrilant messaging coming from Donald Trump on the campaign that we saw reflected in his rallies where people of color were harassed, even assaulted and that some white working class people who claim to be experiencing economic anxiety were actually experiencing cultural anxiety.
Racism light, racism full. However you want to characterize it. Is the Democrat strategy of trying to reclaim the so called white working class voters who went to the Trump side, is that a winning strategy going forward because it does alienate the people of color who have made up the Democratic base for many years now?
NINA TURNER: Kim, if that is their only strategy, it is not going to work. We know by in large, the African American community is the loyalist base to the Democratic party by far and even in this election cycle, I believe it was 96% or over 90% of African American women voted Democrat or 80% of black men voted for the Democratic candidate and those numbers, no other ethnic group is as close to that as African Americans so you can not alienate your base of African Americans and Hispanic voters and Native American voters, Asian voters. I’m trying to name everybody. The mosaic of humanity that falls into the category of people of color.
At the same time, the economic anxiety that was felt by the white working class was felt by everybody that is in the working class and we tend to forget that and Democrats kept parsing that out. They kept splitting up folks when in fact, we should have been talking about the economic anxiety across the board but then we could put a however to that. However, people of color, I.e. African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans tend to feel the pressure when it comes to poverty or income and wealth inequality to a deeper degree that these disparities do exist, but meanwhile, if you call into the working class and barely middle class category, no matter what your ethnicity is, you are suffering and we want to be the party that tries to ameliorate that suffering by pushing public policy I.e. for example, increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
I.e. for example pushing policies and actually executing policies that bring in Medicare for all and stop hedging on that. Democrats did that. The establishment Democrats did that and they’re still doing it right now so they missed the mark. I believe that some of those voters who voted for President Obama in 2012 and some who voted for him in 2008 and then ended up voting for Mr. Trump in 2016 can be brought into the fold. It can not be a strategy by the Democratic party only to go after those voters but they have to do a better job of communicating that we are all in this together regardless of your ethnicity. That if you are poor, if you are poor white you have something in common with poor blacks, poor Hispanics, poor Asians, poor Native Americans.
That working class and barely middle class sisters and brothers have a lot in common, but at the same time, we have to talk to our white sisters and brothers about the fact that if you are African American for example, you are disproportionately feeling that pain but we are all in this together. The Democrats, they totally missed the mark. They did not have an economic message whatsoever, Kim, because it’s kind of hard to run for President Obama’s third term and then talk about the economy.
KIM BROWN: Donald Trump did talk about the economy quite a bit but in very vague, lofty terms. He didn’t really provide a lot of details and the whole premise behind Make America Great again I imagine is to make America work again. Something that he promised to do. Whether or not he’s able to deliver on those promises, certainly remains to be seen, but to wrap up here, Senator, why did Hillary Clinton lose and how can the Democrats reclaim not only the White House possibly in 2020 but to get that majority in congress. To get that legislative check on this White House and this presidency which, so far in its early months appears to be headed way off the rails. Why did Hillary lose and what can Democrats do in order to win again?
NINA TURNER: They’re all the way off the rails. Let’s just … The Trump White House is all the way off the rails. In terms of what the Democrats can do, what were some of the failings of the Clinton campaign is one in arrogance. No one who is running for office or holds office can afford to be arrogant. What I mean by that is that the juxtaposition of the DNC, of the Clinton campaign at the time was that Mr. Trump is so bad that no one in their right mind, and I’m paraphrasing here, nobody in their right mind would dare vote for him and then when the revelations came out with the tape and him making those very vulgar statements about women, they just knew that they had it in the bag but it has shown that over 50% of white women actually voted for Mr. Trump even though that tape revealed something about his character that we would like to think would not be acceptable in this country.
Your point also about what happened at some of his rallies, even though there are some reports that some Democratic groups paid people to go in there and disrupt, but there is a racial element to how Trump was running his campaign. There is no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Those cold words that he was using, not only Make America Great again, some people interpret that as Make America White Again and leave everybody else out, but also his law and order that really came out during the convention in Cleveland.
I want to go back to something. This point is that everyone who voted for Mr. Trump, who are white working class people are not racist. They’re not flaming racists, but at the same time the fact that they have him labeled as you pointed out in that Priority USA focus group that they believe that the Democratic party is the party of Wall Street. They believe that the Democratic party is the party that is out of touch says to me very clearly that the Democratic party needs to do some soul searching as to why everyday Americans feel that they are more in line with Wall Street than the Republican party. That they are out of touch with their every day needs and the problems that they are trying to solve.
One, which is to have a good job that will help them provide for themselves and their family if they have a family, if they have children. That their children will have a better future than they have, that they want to live in safe communities and they want to be respected. Everybody wants that across the board whether they are Democrat or Republican and no matter what their ethnicity is. Kim, the Democratic party is out of touch with that. We are no longer living up to the foundational principles of President Franklin. D. Roosevelt if you will for me to bring him up in terms of the four freedoms and what it really, really means to be the party of the working class.
In order to deal with that, the Democratic party is going to have to make some confessions that it has not had the courage to make which is despite what the Russians tried to do, no one in the intelligence community has said that the Russians voted. No one in intelligence community has said that … Well, let me just put it this way. More time in Wisconsin, more time in Michigan, more time in the great state of Ohio. More time in Pennsylvania probably would have turned this thing around in terms of the electoral college so we have to come to grips with that.
Now, in terms of what the democrats need to do moving forward is what we should have did in 2016 and even before that, Kim. That we started losing state houses and governors mansions and secretary of state’s offices since 2009 and so we can not blame that on Russians. We can not blame that on anybody else other than the fact that we celebrated so hard when President Obama made history in 2008 and rightfully so, that we celebrated all the way through 09 and 10 and 11 and got him back in office in 12 and we kept celebrating through 2016 that we have to go back and figure out why we have been losing state houses and governors mansions all across this country and why we continue to lose congressional offices or we just hold steady, but we are not holding steady enough that we make the requisite progress that is necessary to be the counterweight to the Republican party and we can not just be anti-Trump.
We can not just be anti-GOP. We have to show the American people that we are the party that stands up for the working class, not just in our rhetoric when it’s time to run for office, but in pushing bold policy positions when the Democrats had the opportunity to have Medicare for all, what did we do? We did the Affordable Care Act which has some problems. People’s premiums have gone up. I’ve talked to workers or owners of small business all across this country where they had to close down their businesses. We didn’t fix the Affordable Care Act when we had a chance. We didn’t stand up and rail against the gutting of the Voting Rights Act when we had a chance and also standing up to rail against every single anti-voter bill that has gone through legislatures in this country like North Carolina.
Some that happened in my state. Like Wisconsin. There are some things that without a doubt, the Democratic party has to stand for and fight for whether it’s sexy, whether it makes the news or not. It is the right thing to do so we have lost our way and in the words of Denzel Washington in the movie The Great Debaters when he was saying to his students that he was training to be great debaters, he said, “I’m going to help you find your righteous mind.” The Democrats need to find their righteous mind.
KIM BROWN: That’s former state senator of Ohio, Nina Turner. She is a force and a voice in the progressive movement and she’s also the host of the forthcoming program right here on The Real News Network. Be looking for it. It’s the Nina Turner Show. Senator, we appreciate you joining us today. As always, thank you very much.
NINA TURNER: My pleasure, Kim.
KIM BROWN: Thank you for watching and supporting The Real News Network.